I grew up in a household with 5 sisters. Each of us is wildly different in our personalities and our ages span across 12 years. I’ll spare you the details, but I still vividly remember many of the (not so quiet) arguments surrounding shared rooms and stealing borrowing each other’s clothes. I remember the buzz that accompanied dinner time between coming home from track practice or orchestra rehearsal and running off to study, the laughter that consumed family holidays, and my father’s adamancy that if we were to get a family dog, it must be male, so he’s not completely left to his own devices (a notion he quickly gave up on after meeting our beloved Molly). It’s no secret why I admire stories of strong women and sisters, particularly Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, so much.

With International Women’s Day today, I've been reflecting on the role that women have had in my life and, quite frankly, I'm humbled and blown away with gratitude by both the women and men in my life who have seen sparks of promise and chosen to invest in helping me grow into who I am. I’m new to the eCommerce world and still fairly early on in my career (I’m 27 in case you’re wondering). Though I’ve been in eCommerce for only three short years, I’ve witnessed some incredible women making their corners of the world a better place.

This is a piece to celebrate, as well as offer my perspective on how we can continue the noble pursuit of elevating women who are doing great work. While we can’t change the whole world, we can change our part of it. We have an ethos here at Future Commerce: every human being has to engage in commerce, therefore commerce can change the world. Let’s work together to build a future that we’re proud of.

Before Celebration, A Lament

I have such mixed feelings about the notion of having an International Women’s Day. On the one hand, yay feminism! Yay equality! Yay women! But honestly, on the other hand, part of me hates that this even has to be a day, that we women need an internationally recognized holiday to celebrate our existence and to show us respect. Honestly, the fact that we have to set aside a day to celebrate and elevate women’s stories saddens me to my core. Dignifying the work of women should just be part of our culture.

In setting out to write a piece to celebrate women making positive changes in the retail world, I found myself facing significant emotional blocks. I was frozen in my own mixed emotions and feelings about womanhood, particularly what it means to be a woman in our current context. I had to ask myself why???

As much as I really wanted to just skirt past the awkward and celebrate the good, I couldn’t move past it. Then it hit me: a truth that I’ve had to remind myself all the more often as I get older. In order to celebrate—truly celebrate with the kind of joy that sits deep in your belly—you must lament that which calls for grief. Our culture doesn’t lament very well. Lament is awkward, it’s messy, and it’s sure as hell too vulnerable. We crave ease and efficiency (reduce the friction! Growth hacks a thread 🧵!). Recognizing that which hurts is difficult and frustratingly inefficient. Just give me the 5 easy steps I can apply to get through this, right? But wisdom doesn’t grow in a frictionless world.

While there are exceptions, we as a culture have made significant progress in addressing and correcting outright discrimination against women in the workplace. However, that doesn’t mean that implicit biases are gone. It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in the workforce, a reality that is disproportionately higher for women of color.

Figure 1: Representation in the corporate pipeline by gender. (Source: McKinsey; Women in the Workplace, 2021)

While there have been significant improvements, a 2021 study done by McKinsey & Company and the LeanIn.Org found that while women represent 48% of the workforce (17% being women of color), only 24% of C-Suite Executives are women. Only 4% are women of color. Asian women are less likely than any other demographic to receive positive feedback on their leadership abilities. This, combined with the rise in anti-Asian rhetoric as a result of the pandemic, has made it increasingly more difficult for Asian women to get promoted at work.

This extends to personal experiences as well. There are unreasonable expectations placed on female founders. The double standard surrounding women in leadership roles at DTC and eCommerce brands is undeniable. The industry falls short for everyone, not just women. From Alex Greifeld, author of No Best Practices and frequent Future Commerce contributor:

Two ways the industry is falling short for everyone: 1. Lack of formal on-the-job training and 2. Reactive, always-on cultures. These factors make it harder to break into the industry and sustain a career, but they often disproportionally impact those with fewer resources. — Alex Greifeld, No Best Practices

The double standard, combined with the culture of reaction without training makes it so women have to catch up before we can even begin with equal footing.

Not to mention, the mental and emotional tolls that the pandemic has taken on our general population, most significantly women. There has been a significant rise in the number of individuals who report being burnt out at work, particularly women. 42% of women report being often or almost always burnt out in 2021, as compared to 32% in 2020. For men, those numbers are 35% and 28%, respectively. What is often overlooked is the role that many women play in uncompensated labor, whether that is caregiving for a child or older relative, housekeeping, or cooking. Thankfully, the shift towards all activity occurring in the home brought on by the pandemic is subsiding, but what the pandemic taught us is that unpaid labor and the toll it takes on an individual is largely underappreciated culturally, especially in the workplace. (If you’re interested in exploring data bias, check out Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez)

However, I’m also a firm believer that the beauty of humanity is that people can and have changed for the better. In our culture, we’re much further along in our appreciation of women than we were70 years ago. Yet we still have further to go. I hope to help us recognize our shortcomings and offer a perspective on how we can continue the work of lifting up women, in our own little corner of the world. I offer three ideas, from my perspective: first, let’s make a habit of publicly celebrating the good work that women are doing, second, recognize the power that lies in representation, and finally, be the kind of person who extends a helping hand.

Make a Habit of Publicly Celebrating Women

Prior to working in the eCommerce space, I worked as a music educator. One of the tried-and-true ways to get my kindergarten students to exhibit good behaviors was to publicly and specifically commend those students who were following directions. As soon as I said “Look everyone! Tommy is sitting up with good posture and singing with me!” about 5 other students would immediately adjust and participate as well. This practice not only brought attention to students who were doing great things, but it also brought MY attention to those students as well. I would make a point to celebrate the more difficult students exhibiting good musicianship. I could name multiple students who, after practicing recognition, I would begin to shift my attitude towards. Practicing recognition not only develops a culture of celebration but also changed my own attitudes as well.

Being celebrated just feels good for everyone. I love celebrating other people, and I love being celebrated. Celebration also lowers the threat of competition, especially in teams. I’m not naive. I know that competition inevitably sprouts up, even when we don’t want it on our teams. I’ve experienced the unwelcome green monster in myself even when I don’t want it to be there! How have I overcome it? Through celebration. Celebration quickly turns into pandering when it’s not specific and doesn’t recognize the work and value that a person brings. No one wants to work for a company for 12 years and only be celebrated for being “so sweet.” Celebration is empty without specification.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of women who are worth celebrating in the eCommerce, retail, and web3 spaces:

  • Alex Greifeld: Newsletter & marketing guru, author of No Best Practices
  • Ingrid Cordy: Head of Digital and eCommerce at Nuun, Promoter of all humans, and host of Infinite Shelf
  • Melanie Travis: Founder and CEO at Andie Swim. Redefining swimwear for women and creating a holistic, woman-first company.
  • Kristen LaFrance: Director of Community at Repeat, Host of The Shelf Life Podcast, actively gives a platform to voices oftentimes overlooked, genius community builder and friend of Future Commerce.
  • Magdalena Kala - Investor, Crypto Maven, Fearlessly leading women into Investing, Web3, Crypto, and NFTs.
  • Jaime Schmidt: Entrepreneur, Founder of Schmidt Naturals, and more currently, advocating for and lending a friendly hand to women, nonbinary, and others interested in crypto and NFTs.
  • Rebekah Kondrat: Founder and Managing Partner of Kondrat Retail, helping DTC brands expand into physical stores, and invest in their talents.
  • Kat Cole: President, COO, and Board of Directors for Athletic Greens, Former President and COO for Focus Brands. 
  • Tayler Caraway: Founder and CEO of Happy Medium, making art accessible to everyone, especially casual artists.
  • Orchid Bertelsen: COO of Common Thread Collective, helping eCommerce brands build & scale
  • Vanessa Bruce & Anna Palmer: Founders of Dough, a marketplace to shop women-owned businesses and level the playing field of entrepreneurship.

Recognize the Power of Representation

There’s a reason Disney’s Encanto is such a hit. The movie gives us a story packed with diverse yet strong characters. Just looking at the three central sisters, Mirabel is empathetic and headstrong, yet unsure of her place, Luisa is hard-working, physically strong, and just wants to help others, and Isabela is the most classic-Disney princess-ey character of them all, seemingly graceful, but crushed under the pressure to be “perfect.” Diving into the beauty of Colombian culture and flora, Encanto gives wide representation across its cast and humanizes these young women. Some fans say that the movie has finally made them feel seen.

Don’t underestimate the power of a woman in leadership. Many friends, including myself, have shared with me that they didn’t think about themselves in a particular position until they saw another woman in that position. 

The first powerful woman I encountered in business was Wendy Beckman. She was at Starbucks at the time heading up the Northeast of the US and I was a newly promoted Store Manager. Prior to that, I'd only really encountered men in high-level business positions. Wendy was so warm and also exhibited such a sharp understanding of business that I was in awe of her. After spending time with her, I realized I could—and wanted to—be a leader. — Rebekah Kondrat, Kondrat Retail

Women need other women. Both diversity and representation pave the way for more and more individuals to be positively impacted by your brand. We need diversity in our leadership as well as in funding. In bringing in diverse perspectives, a broader set of ideas and set of solutions can help serve your customers better. ​​“If we get more diverse perspectives in capital allocation we'll get a broader set of ideas that serve a broader range of customers,” says Alex Greifeld. We agree.

Pursuing diversity in leadership is an arduous task. It’s not as easy as waving a magic wand. Or just simply making a few strategic hires. Creating a culture that celebrates diversity is a ground-up effort and requires an empowering culture. Executives aren’t created overnight. Leaders need training and mentorship. “The more diverse perspectives that are brought to the table, the more universal commerce becomes,” says Rebekah Kondrat. “All of these roles play a part in bringing forward new ideas to enact and new problems to solve.” If you want diversity in your executive board, you need to invest in your entry-level employees.

This leads me to my final point: invest in others.

Invest in Others

I made a career switch from Music Education to eCommerce media a few years ago. As with any industry career switch, entrance into the eCommerce world comes with a steep learning curve. It’s daunting. However, just one friendly face makes all the difference.

Having women in leadership helps balance out your working environment. Women in leadership positions are more likely to check in on their reports’ well being (61% as compared to 54% in men), work to ensure that workload is manageable (42% as compared to 36% in men), and are more likely to engage in DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work and education. When companies support well-being and DEI efforts, employees are happier and less likely to consider leaving their jobs. Everyone, not just women, needs access to mentors and resources to help them grow as human beings and move forward in their careers. The question is, are you offering the same level of care and support to all of your employees? Depending on your teammate’s circumstances, they may need different kinds of support. Are you allowing them the freedom and safety to voice their needs and working to help fulfill those needs?

We’ve come a long way but our job is far from over. Let’s work together to make our corner of the world a better place and through commerce, let’s work together to change the world.

Erin DaCruz is the Director of Operations for Future Commerce, an educator and musician, and a self-professed grandmillennial.

Special thanks to Alex Greifeld and Rebekah Kondrat for offering their perspectives on women in retail.